Throughout history, people have puzzled over fundamental questions: Why was I born? What happens after I die? Does life have meaning? In 2006, Every Day Catholic will address these questions and explore the fundamental beliefs of the Catholic faith.

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Why Read the Scriptures?
By Michael D. Guinan, O.F.M.

When I was first ordained, an older friar asked me if I knew yet what my assignment was going to be. I told him, “I’m going to study and teach Scripture.” His face grew very serious, and he said, “Oh my! Be very, very careful!” For him, there was something dangerous, something “not quite Catholic” about studying Scripture.

As common as this attitude was, it was also, sadly, wrong. The Scriptures are part of the foundations of Christianity. One of the most important tasks of the Second Vatican Council was its recovery and revitalizing of the Bible in the liturgy and life of Catholics. After the Council, we can note especially the growth of two kinds of activities centered on the Bible: study groups and prayer groups.

When we begin to read the Bible, we notice that we are in a world and culture quite different from our own. The Bible was written in ancient languages (Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek); its stories take place within the setting and history of the ancient Near East. Because of all this, it is a “closed book” to us. This is why it is a good idea to have at hand a Catholic “Study Bible.”

But we also pray the Bible. We believe that somehow, in and through it, God speaks to us. Our first encounter with the Bible is usually within the context of worship. The community of faith gathers to celebrate, and the Bible has a special place. It is proclaimed, meditated on, preached and applied to our lives. Outside of the liturgy, we find prayer groups that read, reflect on and share the Bible. It is an “open book” to us.

There is a curious tension then between these two activities. The Bible is an ancient book and does need to be studied just like other ancient documents. But it is more than that. It continues to speak to us in the context of our community of faith.

What is it about the Bible that makes it “more”?


Jesus: The Man, the Christ

We refer to the Bible as the Word of God. What, exactly, does that mean? The Bible is not the Word of God #1. The Word of God #1 is Jesus Christ. In Jesus, his teachings and actions, his life, death and resurrection, we see who God is (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #101-102). Central to our faith is the belief that, in Jesus, God has become incarnate. In himself, Jesus combines both the human and the divine.

As human, Jesus was a first-century Palestinian, a Jewish male who ate, drank and slept as he walked the roads from Galilee to Judea. Finally, he suffered and died. As divine, however, Jesus was united to the Father in and through the Holy Spirit from the first moment of his existence. This same Spirit guided him throughout his life and eventually raised him up in the Resurrection.

The Bible is the Word of God insofar as it relates to the mystery of Christ. The Bible also has a human and a divine side. Because the Bible is human, it is firmly rooted in ancient languages, cultures and history; it expresses itself in the literary forms of its time, which can be quite different from ours. As such, it must be studied.

The Spirit Still at Work

But because the Bible is of God, it reveals God to us. Just as the Holy Spirit was in Jesus, so too the Spirit was active in the production of the books of the Bible (this is what is meant by the “inspiration of the Bible”), and continues to be active today. While they can and do contain errors (e.g., scientific, historical), we affirm that “the books of Scripture firmly, faithfully, and without error teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the Sacred Scriptures” (CCC, #107).

The analogy between the mystery of the Incarnation and the Bible has often been officially affirmed by the Church; it is the foundation of a Roman Catholic approach to the Bible. Because the Bible is so intimately tied to Christ, the old friar was right after all—but in a way far different from what he intended: With the Bible, we must indeed be very careful—full of care—to approach the Bible with reverence and to make it a regular part of our spiritual lives within the context of our community of faith.

Father Michael D. Guinan, O.F.M., is a professor of Old Testament, Semitic Languages and Biblical Spirituality at the Franciscan School of Theology in Berkeley, California.

Next: Why Do We Talk to God?

Questions for Reflection:

• What does the Bible mean to you? Does it have a significant place in your everyday life?

• What is your favorite story from the Old Testament? From the New Testament? Why?

Sacred Stories
By Judith Dunlap

The Bible is a library of books: poetry, wise sayings, history, letters and stories. All of the books have one thing in common. They all relate to God, who was very much active in the lives of his people. I like the stories best because I get to read about ordinary men and women as well as great kings and queens who had problems just like me. I get to see how their response brought them closer to or further away from God. Reading their sacred stories helps me when I reflect on my own story.

Each of us has a story. The weeks, months and years of our life turn into the chapters of our story. Few of us reach adulthood without experiencing enough comedy and tragedy to fill our own “sacred” book. What a shame if we never take the time to sit back and “reread” these pages that continue to shape our future.

The great philosopher Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” That’s a rather dramatic way of saying that life is short, and if you don’t stop once in a while to reflect on it, it will pass you right by. How can we grow as persons unless we look back and learn from our past? How can we grow as Christians if we don’t look back on our lives with the eyes of faith to see where we have been and where we need to be?

Take time for theological reflection. Ask yourself where God was in the various chapters in your life. Take time to sit with your children and reminisce. Help them see you as the child you once were with your own fears and failings. Share your stories and your wisdom with them. Listen to their stories and teach them the life skill of reflecting on their own lives and seeing them as sacred stories, too.

For Family Response:

Ask family members to talk about their favorite birthday. Include as many details as possible. End with a prayer thanking God for the people and things that made that birthday special.

Media Watch
Akeelah and the Bee
By Frank Frost

The 2002 box-office hit documentary Spellbound proved that a spelling bee can provide riveting competition and dramatic tension. Now the imperfect but lovely drama, Akeelah and the Bee, offers another perspective. Here the dogged pursuit of the winner’s trophy in the National Spelling Bee becomes a search for a much greater prize: self-worth.

Akeelah (Keke Palmer) is a brilliant, but reluctant, 11-year-old student in a rundown school in Los Angeles County, where it is far from cool to be a “brainiac” (an issue facing girls her age everywhere in our country). Her mother desperately tries to keep Akeelah and her siblings on the straight and narrow while working long hours at a hospital, at the expense of the attention her kids need to feel valued.

Tipped off by Akeelah’s teacher, her school principal pushes her to enter the school spelling bee, which she aces. But Akeelah considers the risk of social rejection too high and refuses to go on to the district bee. The principal offers her the tutelage of an old friend and professor (Dr. Larabee, played by Laurence Fishburne), who incidentally had, years before, gotten to the National Spelling Bee himself before losing.

That Akeelah will eventually compete in the nationals is never in doubt. Our interest is captured, rather, by all the personal challenges she must face down to do it. All of the other contestants come from upscale school districts with big cars and supportive parents, while Akeelah takes the bus and hides her participation from her mother, who is too busy working. (The filmmakers take care not to make this a black-white thing. While Akeelah is black, her chief competitors and eventual friends are Hispanic and Asian.)

But the greatest obstacles she must overcome are self-doubt and a sense of unworthiness. In an early coaching session, Dr. Larabee has Akeelah read a quote she sees posted in his office. It forms the heart of the movie:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world.”

It’s not just Akeelah who craves the feeling of being valued by others. The principal wants recognition for the school. Dr. Larabee is blocked by a secret grief he suffers. The leader of the gang Akeelah’s brother hangs out with sees in her aspirations something he once wanted.

As her success grows, Akeelah discovers that she carries with her the hopes of her whole neighborhood and community. Whether or not she wins the top prize, she brings them all renewed dignity and pride. The unabashed goodness of this small, simple movie gives us all heart.

For Media Watch:

What values do you find in this film?

By Judy Ball

St. Martha (first century)

Poor Martha. She kept herself busy in the kitchen preparing a meal for Jesus while her sister Mary sat at the master’s feet, absorbed in his every word. Then, when Martha complained that she could use some help with the household chores, Jesus gently told her that her sister Mary had “chosen the better part.”

But Martha was more than a fussy, frantic hostess trying to impress an important guest who had come to the family home in Bethany, where Jesus often stayed as he made his way to Jerusalem. She was a woman of deep faith, and one of Jesus’ dearest friends. When she and her sister lost their brother Lazarus, Martha left Mary at home with grieving friends and family. She ran down the road to meet Jesus, who had received word about Lazarus, and bared her soul: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21).

Martha’s spontaneous outpouring of sorrow led to a rich moment between her and Jesus, who identified himself to her as “the resurrection and the life” and promised that “whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live.” When Jesus asked Martha if she believed him, she responded with a profound profession of faith: “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world” (John 11:24-27).

Martha had her struggles finding a balance between doing and being, but ultimately she demonstrated that she knew well who Jesus really was—not just a family friend with whom she had spent many hours at home but the Messiah himself. While Martha kept herself busy serving, she also learned from Jesus to appreciate nutrition of the soul as well. Her feast day is July 29.

Kathy Lynch

All her life, Kathy Lynch has been a caregiver: beginning, at age 11, with her dying aunt; then her grandmother and her mother. Following her mother’s death, Ms. Lynch knew something had to change in her own life, which had included working 27 years in Michigan’s auto industry.

She quit her job. Without any sense of what she would do next, with no buyout or benefits to lean on, she faced her own “fear factor” and waited for God to tell her what should come next. The answer came. She joined the staff of the Community and Outreach Center at St. Aloysius Parish in downtown Detroit. She is its director today.

Open six days a week, the Center staff and volunteers serve up to 700 people per day. “We greet our guests with a smile, a warm building, a cup of hot coffee, donuts and a bowl of oatmeal,” Ms. Lynch told Every Day Catholic. Services offered also include hygiene kits, coats, clothing, blankets and special groceries for seniors as well as support groups, educational opportunities and spiritual gatherings. The Center also has a Healing Garden and Meditation Room, which anyone can use as “a calming place to become healthy.”

If she allowed it, the Center could take every ounce of her energy and spirit. For a while it did. She was “living, breathing, sleeping, dreaming” the Center. She didn’t have time for prayer. A close friend helped her see the imbalance in her life.

Today, Ms. Lynch can see that she was “talking a good line but wasn’t living it.” She has found her way back to asking God what he wants of her each day. “With all that Jesus did in his years on earth, he always found time to be with his Father in prayer. Jesus himself needed nourishment.”

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